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VCU receives $8.8M to support employment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

A Virginia Commonwealth University professor has received two major research awards totaling $8.8 million to coordinate a dozen studies across four universities that will focus on how to best provide training and employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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By Brian McNeill

A Virginia Commonwealth University professor has received two major research awards totaling $8.8 million to coordinate a dozen studies across four universities that will focus on how to best provide training and employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Paul Wehman, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the School of Medicine with a joint appointment in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education, received two five-year $4.4 million awards from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research in the U.S Department of Health and Human Services.

“These two major research grants will provide synergy for VCU to be the predominant leader in the United States in the area of employment for individuals with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities,” said Wehman, who is also director of a VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employer Practices for Individuals with Disabilities as well as director of the VCU Autism Center for Excellence.

The first award, “Employment of Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD),” involves a consortium of researchers at VCU, as well as Vanderbilt University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Kent State University, and includes six multiphase studies that will examine the effectiveness of different evidence-based interventions to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in competitive employment. The goal is to help reduce the continuing high levels of unemployment among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

One of these studies will be conducted in partnership with Dominion Energy in the Richmond area, enrolling individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities into different jobs and seeking the best strategies for recruitment, training, job placement and retention. The new center will work closely with the Dominion Energy DiverseAbility Employee Resource Group.

The second award, “Transition to Employment for Youth with Disabilities,” will also involve research at VCU, Vanderbilt, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Kent State. It will focus on pre-employment training for younger adolescents, postsecondary and supported college education training for universities that are serving students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as internships for youth with emotional, learning and behavioral disorders.

One of these studies, to be conducted at VCU, will investigate the effectiveness of an internship program called Start on Success that incorporates a career and technical education course followed by paid work experiences for high school students with psychiatric or learning disabilities. The focus of the program is to keep students at risk of dropping out to remain in school and graduate.

“We congratulate Dr. Wehman and his team for this exciting work and grant award. This research will address a critical need for our society — the employment of those with disabilities and build the diversity of our workforce,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine and the VCU Health System executive vice president for medical affairs.

Andrew Daire, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education, said the school is excited about Wehman’s work and the work of the VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center.

“RRTC is a critically important center in the School of Education and its impact puts into practice our vision to be a leader in responsive, needs-driven and research-based educational practices that transform the lives of those we serve in our communities, especially those who have been historically marginalized,” Daire said.

Both awards are Rehabilitation Research and Training Center grants that fund coordinated, integrated and advanced programs of research, training and information dissemination in topical areas specified by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. These centers conduct research to improve rehabilitation methodology and service delivery systems; improve health and functioning; and promote employment, independent living, family support, and economic and social self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.

Wehman is the founding editor of the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation. His background is highly interdisciplinary and he is internationally known for his pioneering work in the beginning of supported employment in 1980, a rehabilitation intervention strategy that has helped millions of people with neurodevelopmental disabilities, brain injury, mental illness and spinal cord injury in countries around the world to gain competitive employment for the first time.

“Dr. Wehman is a preeminent researcher in this field who has built the foundations of supported employment more than a quarter century ago and we are excited about how he is moving the field forward,” said David Cifu, M.D., chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

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Richmond health districts enter Phase B1 of COVID vaccinations, which includes first responders, teachers, other essential workers

First responders, corrections and homeless shelter workers, and teachers and school staff are among the essential workers eligible for the vaccination under phase 1B.

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The local health districts of the Richmond Metropolitan Area, which includes Chesterfield, Chickahominy, Henrico, and Richmond, will begin expanding their COVID-19 vaccination campaigns to include some Phase 1b frontline essential workers on Monday, January 18th.

Specifically, workers in the first three categories of ​Phase 1b​, will now be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines will be administered through a combination of regional mass vaccination events, as well as partnerships with various providers. Vaccination of ​Phase 1a populations​ will continue as the region opens up to Phase 1b.

“We know that the burden of this disease and the underlying social vulnerabilities that put these essential workers at risk do not end at the boundaries of our city and counties,” said Dr. Melissa Viray, Acting Director for Richmond and Henrico Health Districts. “It makes the most sense to coordinate our vaccination efforts and make sure all of our communities have access to the best tool we have to end the pandemic.”

The first three categories of Phase 1b frontline essential workers include:

  1. Police, Fire, and Hazmat
  2. Corrections and homeless shelter workers
  3. Childcare/PreK-12 Teachers/Staff

Individuals in these categories will start to have the opportunity to receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at one of three large-scale regional vaccination clinics beginning next week.

“Many school teachers and staff in our jurisdictions have courageously shown up for in-person instruction throughout this pandemic in order to serve their students’ needs and to provide the best education possible. This vaccine offers a shield of protection and a beacon of hope for this group of essential workers,” says Dr. Tom Franck, Director of Chickahominy Health District.

Next week’s COVID-19 vaccination events are taking place in addition to each local health districts’ ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts for qualified individuals. Metro area districts are exploring ways to move deeper into the 1b vaccine eligible group as additional resources become available to distribute vaccine more broadly.

“VDH is continuing to work with pharmacies, hospital systems, and medical practices to establish the infrastructure to more quickly and effectively distribute available resources and vaccinate others who are part of 1b and beyond,” says Dr. Alex Samuel, Director of Chesterfield Health District.

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Veteran baker to open brick and mortar bakery operation in Lakeside

Up All Night Bakery, a new brick and mortar for 20-year baking veteran Jonathan Highfield, will take over the former Pulp RVA space at 5411 Lakeside Avenue.

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From Richmond BizSense:

Jonathan Highfield has kneaded dough for about 20 years, both in the employment of and instruction of others. This year, he’s baking a venture entirely of his own creation.

He recently signed a lease on 5411 Lakeside Ave., where he plans to open a production facility for his Up All Night Bakery by March.

Up All Night was launched as a part-time gig in late 2019, making croissants, breads, cookies and other baked goods that are sold at farmers markets and to a few wholesale customers around town.

Highfield currently bakes in the kitchen of the Early Bird Biscuit Co.’s Bellevue Avenue location during the business’s off-hours. He said he decided to move Up All Night elsewhere because he had outgrown the Early Bird space.

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Education

U of R announces socially distant service opportunities and virtual events in honor of MLK Day

Virtual events, such as luncheons and meditation sessions, are slated to take place on Zoom throughout the week in order to bring the campus community together to pause, reflect, and discuss the legacy of Martin Luther King and what it means to heal.

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The University of Richmond has announced it will be closed Monday, January 18th to allow the campus community to engage in physically-distanced service activities celebrating MLK Day.

Historically, UR celebrates the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through a day filled with service opportunities completed alongside the greater Richmond community. Due to COVID-19, this year’s MLK Day events will foster opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to volunteer virtually by working on project kits developed by the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement. The kits entail projects such as transcribing documents from the Library of Virginia; creating birthday cards for Celebrate! RVA; making toys for the ASPCA; writing letters to elected officials; and more.

The community will also have the opportunity to use the Book Arts Studio’s printing press on MLK Day, to create book art and journals that align with this year’s theme, “The Revolution Then And Now: A Time of Healing.”

Virtual events, such as luncheons and meditation sessions, are slated to take place on Zoom throughout the week in order to bring the campus community together to pause, reflect, and discuss the legacy of Martin Luther King and what it means to heal.

“In the wake of two pandemics — COVID-19 and social injustice — we’re encouraging our community to reflect on what it will mean to heal as we look to the future and explore the ways that we can better impact the lives of those in our community and beyond who experience social injustices and are fighting their own individual revolution,” said Morgan Russell, associate director of multicultural affairs and event organizer.

Full details about UR’s MLK Day celebration are available at richmond.edu/mlk.

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